Expert Tips and Advice for Window and Door Efficiency Improvements

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Between federal tax credits, awareness of eco-conscious living and a common need to tighten budgets, replacing old, inefficient windows and doors makes a lot of sense these days. But deciding whether they actually need replacement is not always black and white. Here, we’ve compiled expert advice and information to determine whether your windows and doors need to be updated and what to do once you’re ready to begin a replacement project.


Window replacement

With all of the new products available, know that if your windows are more than 5 years old, their replacement can improve the efficiency of your home. This is especially true in the Atlanta area where moisture and climate change can cause window seal failures. But, as with all purchases, you have to ask yourself: Do I really need this?

“When your windows start costing you time, money and worry, it’s time to have them replaced,” says Carolyn Knapp of Champion Window Company of Atlanta LLC. “When they’re hard to operate, have rattling panes, and heat comes pouring into your home from hot Atlanta summers, you need new windows.”

Tim Beattie of Pella Southeast and Kathy Ziprik from Simonton Windows suggest asking yourself the following five questions when determining your window-replacement needs:

  1. How many panes of glass are in my windows? Single-paned windows are the least energy efficient and can be replaced with double- or triple-paned Energy Star-compliant windows to enhance energy efficiency and make your home more comfortable during all seasons.
    Tip: In Georgia you are required to have Low-E insulated glass. Ask for windows with either argon or krypton gass between the panels; this will help reduce heat gain in the summer and loss in the winter.
  2. Is there condensation or fog inside the glass on my double- or triple-glazed windows? This could indicate seal failure. If this is the case, you might need to replace the glass or the entire window.
    Tip: The most energy-efficient, operable window is a casement or awning window, as all four sides are sealed to the frame. Next-best choices are double-hung, single-hung and sliding windows.
  3. Do my windows open and close easily? If the windows are difficult to open or close—or they won’t stay open or locked—this could be a sign that they need to be replaced.
    Tip: Windows with a block-and-tackle balance system will give you a longer life and smoother operation.
  4. Do my windows let light and air in around the frame? These are signs of inefficient windows.
    Tip: Have someone stand outside your window. With a small flashlight, stand inside and shine the flashlight’s beam around the window’s perimeter. If the person outside sees light coming through, this is an indication of seal failure—and probably energy loss.
  5. Can outside noise be easily heard in my house? If you live near an airport or busy street, consider replacing your windows with laminated glass to help reduce noise transmission.
    Tip: If you can’t replace all of your windows at once, change the ones that affect you the most, such as those in bedrooms, the family room and the kitchen.

Beattie says a window’s material affects its insulation benefits. “While wood is the best insulator, aluminum and vinyl are effective as long as they have a thermal brake—something that stops or greatly reduces the transfer of cold or heat reduction,” he says.

If you’ve determined that you require window replacements, Ziprik strongly recommends seeking out the resources of a professional window installer. “The specifying and installation of a window is a detailed job that only the most advanced DIY-ers can tackle,” she says. “Cost efficiencies are always found when professional installers perform the installation of replacement windows. This is because professional contractors specialize in these practices every day, so they are faster, more efficient and more effective at installing a window than a first-time installer or homeowner might be.”

Communication is key

Ted Kirk of North Georgia Replacement Windows stresses good communication with the professional you decide to hire, as most replacement windows and doors are custom-ordered to exact specifications. “It is imperative that measurements are correct, the installation crew is prepared and the homeowner has a clear understanding of their own responsibilities,” Kirk says. He also suggests removing any breakable items from the work area before the installation crew arrives.

Ready to install?

Window replacements can be performed year-round and are generally completed in one day. Homeowners do not need to leave the home but should cover furniture to protect it from dust and dirt. “If you own a pre-1978 house, the EPA has mandated new lead-safe work practices,” Knapp says. “The homeowner should be made aware that special practices for installing windows need to be followed, and if a company does not comply, they are breaking the law and are subject to huge fines.”

When purchasing new windows, remember that a warranty generally comes in three separate parts: glass, parts and labor. “Make sure the warranty is not prorated,” Beattie warns. “Warranty on glass should be 20 years not prorated, at least 10 years for the window parts, and two years on the labor. The warranty should be transferrable to a new homeowner at no cost.”


Door replacement

Replacing your entry doors is another way to not only increase your home’s efficiency, but also improve its aesthetic appeal. “A new entry door can dramatically improve a home’s curb appeal, energy efficiency and perceived value,” says Mary Nesper, marketing manager for the entry doors division of Clopay Building Products. She adds that, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2009 Cost vs. Value report, seven of the top 10 value-yielding projects ranked by realtors involve the outside of the home. “The project with the biggest return, a mid-range-priced entry door replacement, ranks No. 1 and costs less than $1,200,” Nesper says.

To evaluate the condition of your current entry doors and determine if replacement is needed, Nesper recommends asking the following questions:

1.    Does the door open and close properly?
2.    Does it seal properly?
3.    Are there drafts or water-infiltration problems?
4.    Does it lock securely?
5.    Does the door have a lot of dings and dents, or is it rusting (if it is a steel door)?
6.    If there is glass in the door, is it foggy (due to a broken seal), cracked or broken?
7.    Is the door slipping in the frame?
8.    Is it weathered, cracked, split, rotten or warped?
9.    Is there rot around the doorjamb?
10.    Are there any signs of water or insect damage?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, a replacement door will dramatically improve the energy efficiency, functionality and look of your home.

To hire or DIY?

If you’ve determined that your door needs repairs, the next step is actually replacing it. But how do you determine whether to hire a pro or go it alone? Nesper says that door replacement is most cost-effective as a DIY project if the following scenarios apply to you:

•    You’re replacing a single door and frame
•    You’re replacing the door only (the hinge and lock are in the same location as the current door)
•    No problems arise when the existing, pre-hung door is removed from the opening

However, if you identify the following problems, your best bet is to call a professional.

•    You detect sub-floor damage
•    The entryway is smaller than the new pre-hung unit
•    There is uneven sub-flooring or the header is sagging
•    A double-door entryway is being installed
•    The door is in direct contact with outside elements (there is no exterior overhang)
•    The opening needs work before the new door can be installed
•    You do not have the skills and tools for the installation

Jim Martin of Designer’s Choice Windows and Doors adds that it is especially important to hire a professional if you are replacing French doors or want to replace just the door panel and not the complete unit.

Tim Beattie of Pella Southeast says if your entry door faces west or south it will need to be replaced more often, especially if it does not have a porch to protect it from the sun and outside elements. “Paint or varnish the door with a UV prohibitor to reduce damage done by the sun,” he says.

Whether your window- and door-replacement needs are the result of energy-efficiency concerns, cost-saving interests, a desire to improve your home at a discount with the federal-tax credit or all of the above, the project will prove rewarding


Energy-Saving Window Coverings

The federal tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements now includes window coverings as well. Hunter Douglas’ insulating Duette Architella shades, which can more than double the energy efficiency of a window, are the first and only window shades to qualify for the tax credit without add-on insulation systems.

“Uncovered windows can literally be energy holes, depleting a home of up to half of its heating and cooling energy dollars,” says Marv Hopkins, president and CEO of Hunter Douglas. “We specifically designed and developed the award-winning Duette Architella shade—our most energy-efficient product and the fastest-growing innovation in the extremely popular cellular category—to address this problem. This takes the air-trapping cellular structure of our original Duette honeycomb shade and makes it even more energy efficient by placing a cell within a cell.”

When mounted completely inside the window frame over a double-glazed window, Duette Architella shades can qualify for the federal-tax credit in the insulation category, specifically as an “Eligible Building Envelope Component.”

Why Replace the Old

Ted Kirk of North Georgia Replacement Windows says that most heat gain and loss in a home is the result of old, single-pane wood and aluminum windows. He says replacing them is one of the best home improvement decisions a homeowner can make, as it saves money on monthly bills and yields a high return on investment.

Kirk says that foam spacer systems can provide even more energy efficiency, resistance against condensation and noise reduction. He recommends soft coat Low-E, along with a high fill rate of argon or krypton gas.

After-Project Clean up

Both Ted Kirk from North Georgia Replacement Windows and Tim Rush from Davis Window and Door agree that cleanup should be done by the professionals. “The homeowner should expect that their written agreement will include a complete cleanup and disposal of the old products,” Rush says. But beware, some companies handle cleanup differently. “Some charge extra or don’t do it at all,” Kirk says.

DIY Window Replacement

Although it is recommended to hire a professional to replace windows in your home, many homeowners choose to tackle the project themselves. To aid in this project, here is a step-by-step guide to replacing aluminum windows with energy-efficient vinyl windows:

STEP 1: Remove existing storm windows from your home’s exterior.
STEP 2: From the interior side, remove the aluminum window stop on one side of the unit with a reciprocating saw.
STEP 3: Once the window stop has been removed, the sash frames can be removed from the unit.
STEP 4: To remove the aluminum jamb from the window opening, start by using a reciprocating saw to crosscut the jamb. Be careful not to damage the interior jamb surface.
STEP 5: After the jamb is cross cut, it can be collapsed and removed. The exterior will have an unfinished look.
STEP 6: The remaining window area should be cleaned out, and a jamb needs to be blocked out with wood until it is flush with the exterior facade.
STEP 7: Add insulation to the framed opening between the sheathing and the back of the exterior facade, then place the new vinyl window in the opening up to the blocking materials to ensure a tight fit.
STEP 8: After ensuring that the unit is plumb, level and square in the opening, use screws to secure the window to the wooden blocking in the opening. Always refer to the manufacturer’s written instructions to ensure the installation goes smoothly.
STEP 9: On the interior side, install molding around the window.
STEP 10: On the exterior side, caulk the window up to the facade to ensure an airtight fit.
—Simonton Windows


Tax-Credit Tips

On Feb. 17, 2009, President Obama signed the $789 billion stimulus bill that includes tax-credit incentives for homeowners who make energy-efficient home improvements, including window and door replacements.

How do you get your piece of the economic-stimulus pie? Follow these steps provided by Energy Star.

1.    Purchase windows or doors that have a U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of 0.30 or lower.

2.    Complete your purchase and install the product on or before Dec. 31, 2010 at your principal residence, which must be an existing home (tax credit doesn’t apply to new construction).

3.    Save your receipts and the Manufacturer’s Certification Statement for your records.

4.    When filing your taxes, fill out and file Form 5695.

5.    Receive 30 percent of the product cost (installation not included)—up to $1,500—in your tax return. Note that this is a “non-refundable” tax credit, so you cannot get more back in tax credits than you pay in federal income tax. Also, note that the $1,500 maximum applies to all energy-efficient home-improvement products for both 2009 and 2010—you cannot earn more than $1,500 in tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements in those two years.

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